CALGARY – After a week-long break from games, the Stockton Heat returned to play with back-to-back losses against the Belleville Senators. Wednesday’s game got off to a great start with a back and forth first period, but ended with a 4-2 final score for the Senators. Thursday’s game had the Heat on their heels for the majority of the game, unable to crawl all the way back. Game two’s score ended the same on the scoreboard, with Belleville winning 4-2 once again.
A Need for Production
Following the NHL trade deadline, there were a couple of roster shuffles that made their way down to the AHL level. With Sam Bennett and David Rittich joining their respective teams, Adam Ruzicka and Artyom Zagidulin have ascended to the Flames’ taxi squad to fill in some gaps. As a result, the Heat are without their top scorer in Ruzicka and also down a top-liner.
Matthew Phillips extended some praise to his linemate, saying:
“I think he’s improved a lot this year based off of last season. You can obviously see the kind of player he can be at the next level. He’s strong, he holds onto pucks, and he wins battles. I think it’s really good for Ruzy. He definitely earned his opportunity and he was playing very well for us so hopefully we don’t see him again back down here.”
To combat this change, some line shifting has been essential. Emerging in that opportunity is Dmitry Zavgorodniy. He had a slow start to his first pro season but has really started to show his skills in recent games playing alongside the likes of Phillips and Giorgio Estephan. He’s picked up points in his last three games and earned his first professional goal in Thursday’s game against Belleville. He confirmed post-game that Byron Froese ensured he got to keep a game puck to commemorate that moment.
Start Ahead, Stay Ahead
As far as any sport goes, it is much easier to put yourself in a place to win when you are ahead in the game. The Heat started with a lead in the first period on Wednesday but were unable to hold on to it. This allowed the game to practically slip through their fingers in the third period.
On the following night, they did not get a taste of a lead the entire game. Belleville nets three before Stockton is able to answer back. They show sparks of life in the last half of the third period with a final push that results in a goal from Glenn Gawdin and plenty of other opportunities to close the gap in the score that didn’t connect.
Head Coach Cail MacLean spoke to this trend of waiting for the dying minutes to flip a switch.
“You put yourself in that position when you get your back against the wall. Sometimes I think as a young team when you are put into that underdog position being down in the third period, I think maybe it takes a bit of pressure off. You lean forward a little bit.”
These guys want to compete and realize at some point they are running out of time. To avoid this, MacLean also said, quite simply: “Bottom line is we’ve gotta find a way to just start better.”
Video Review Bites Back
Something that may not be common knowledge around the AHL is the lack of video review that happens. This is an attempt to keep the game moving and avoid unnecessary delays. So, in Stockton’s case, where there was apparent contact on goaltender Garret Sparks on the opening Senators goal on Wednesday and a puck that appeared to cross the line in the glove of Kevin Mandelose on the following night, the Heat are out of luck.
The fans, on the other hand, get the slowed-down view of it. On Wednesday, a very compelling argument could have been made against goaltender interference and enough to possibly get the Belleville goal overturned. Sparks knew it too and put up quite an argument over the call on the ice. The ramifications of a call like that? A whole different third period. The fourth goal was an empty-netter, so this game could have easily gone to overtime or ignited more of a push towards Stockton’s momentum to close out that game.
On Thursday, Colton Beck appeared to have been inches away from scoring. However, the replay on the stream showed it was inches over the goal line. Take a look at it for yourself as this goal would have helped, but wouldn’t have been enough to win the game on its own.
You be the judge. pic.twitter.com/9tEh8ljWqR
— Stockton Heat (Now in Celsius) (@AHLHeat) April 16, 2021
Heads aren’t hanging low just yet. The Heat are aware of how close they are to the end of the season and every game is almost approached with a clean slate in that sense. There is just not enough time this year to get caught up in previous performances. They are one game away from completing their season series against the Belleville Senators and beyond that, only have five games to go against the Manitoba Moose. No set plan for playoffs, so this might be it.
Their next game will be Saturday at 2:00pm MDT to wrap up their series against Belleville for their final home game at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Take it from the wise words of Zavgorodniy that the approach for this one is to, “Just stay positive and play hockey.”